Why Ateneo is honoring Edgar Jopson
Do current Ateneo students know Edgar “Edjop” Jopson of Class 1970? Not well, but they are very eager to.
Management engineering (ME) alumni will posthumously award Edjop as an outstanding alumnus. The choice carries great weight, as the elite Ateneo program has produced countless outstanding leaders, from Bank of Singapore CEO Bing de Guzman to Sen. Bam Aquino. Edjop will be awarded, for example, alongside Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, whose disaster response management has become the gold standard we cite before a calamity.
But Edjop has the most unusual background. When he was killed in Davao during martial law, he was an alternate member of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Central Committee, its highest body. It is superficial, however, to merely categorize him as a communist.
After Ateneo students were criticized for taking selfies with Imelda Marcos, I asked my colleague and Ateneo history professor Ambeth Ocampo if he would consider giving attention to martial law student leaders, a subject current students express interest in. One concedes the Ateneo’s discomfort with Edjop’s legacy.
I found myself telling Ambeth: “Sir, if we were in our 20s during martial law, maybe we would be communists, too!” Younger alumni have the benefit of detachment. Thus, when fellow FAME board member Dr. Chil Soriano asked me to present Edjop’s life, I emphasized that our current students would welcome it.
Edjop’s biography “U.G.: An Underground Tale” was written by my colleague, Benjamin “Boying” Pimentel, and newly reissued by Anvil. Every idealistic Filipino should buy a copy (all royalties go to the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation for martial law victims). The unlikely UG leader began as a charismatic student council president who campaigned against a requirement to wear neckties, an ME honor graduate who wrote “+AMDG” on his exam booklets, and a Mass server shy around girls. He expressed hesitation when chosen as high school valedictorian, saying it would lead people to expect much from him. When he listened to Joma Sison, he was not attracted to what he felt was empty rhetoric.
Edjop pursued the presidency of the National Union of Students of the Philippines to block the more extreme University of the Philippines and De La Salle leaders. He exhorted nuns to send voters from Catholic schools, threatening them with a communist takeover. He shaped the NUSP into an intellectual, peaceful outlet for student activism, and a credible one that drew middle-class students from leading schools. Anecdotes have riot police beating radical student demonstrators, but not NUSP members.
Nothing exemplifies the middle ground Edjop trod more than his meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos in Malacañang on Jan. 30, 1970. He boldly asked Marcos to sign a written pledge not to run for a third term prohibited by the Constitution. The meeting was interrupted by a riot, with students crashing a fire truck into the Palace gate. The radicals smashed the windows of Edjop’s parked car, resenting his moderate leanings.
Chosen one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines for 1970 due to his NUSP leadership, he considered declining it as a reward from the establishment for not breaking away.
Disillusioned, he entered but dropped out of the UP College of Law. The honor graduate became a clerk in the Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions, eventually organizing mass actions involving over 40,000 workers from windowless, fume-filled factories. His ME training made him the unions’ most effective negotiator. He successfully organized a union in the largest garments firm, with over 10,000 workers, and was unexpectedly nominated as a vice president of the new garment workers’ federation. When leaders raised the technicality that he was not a worker and union member, multiple unions rose and claimed the burgis Atenean as a member amid thunderous applause.
Edjop was the pillar of the ’70s moderates and was strongly resented by radicals as a clerico-fascist reactionary and tool of the establishment. Nevertheless, moderates were criticized for lacking direction and grew radicalized. Edjop saw the constitutional convention dominated by politicians’ scions and eventually joined the CPP. Nevertheless, he neither grew into an ideologue nor embraced violence. ME students might laugh that he introduced budgeting, strategic planning and meticulous documentation, down to a comprehensive blueprint for the underground in Mindanao that detailed everything from village demographics to the terrain’s nuances.
The greatest praise came from the army major who had engineered Edjop’s capture. He passed the UP entrance exam but his family could not support him. He saw Edjop as having everything: an Ateneo student council president accepted into UP Law and blessed with a middle-class family. He could not understand how Edjop could throw it all away to go underground.
Edjop exemplifies a decidedly Atenean response to difficult times, a measured, intellectual and moderate approach apt for the institution’s culture. Where UP students have long measured themselves against Lean Alejandro, Ateneans are now ready to accord the same place of honor to Edjop. Hopefully, today’s activists will reflect upon the brilliance that made these student leaders legends. And more broadly, one hopes that the emerging generation of voters embraces the Edsa spirit in their own way, whether they find more resonance in a young student leader than in opposition, church and military leaders then, or because a martyr had no opportunity to fail the youth with difficult compromises in the aftermath of democracy’s restoration.
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